Breaking Down the NWHL Salary Numbers

The NWHL released full player salary information for the league today via a  spiffy new website1 which means we’ve reached the most exciting part of the season: graph time!

Okay, so the hockey will probably be interesting too, but the cap data does give us new insight to the league’s setup and upcoming inaugural season.

First up, let’s take a look at how contract values are divvied up from the league minimum $10,000 to the maximum contract $25,000:


(Note: The salary ranges here are inclusive on the low end and exclusive on the high end. So a $20K contract would be included in the $20-22K bar.)

And then broken down by team:


A few thoughts:

  •  Every contract is a one year deal, so I’m interested to see if the league’s GMs will be willing to sign talent away from each other next season, and if so how aggressive they’ll get about it.
  • On a related note, I wonder if the players making the league minimum $10K will use the inaugural season as a “prove it” year in the hopes of picking up a higher salary next season, either with their current team or with a higher bidder elsewhere in the league.
  • While each team has roughly the same number of contracts above $20K, its interesting to note that the NYR don’t have anyone making above $22K. They also have the lowest number of $10-14K contracts, perhaps because they haven’t used as large a percentage of their cap room on high rent players.
  • Only one player in the league (Connecticut forward Kelli Stack) is making league max. I suspect there are a few other players who could have demanded the same contract. Hilary Knight, for example, could probably have asked for just about anything she wants. But you have to think other considerations like overall team success, the chance to play with former teammates, and location are going to trump a few thousand extra dollars for most of the high rent players.
  • Russian National Team forward and Captain Yekaterina Smolentseva (CTW) is the highest paid non-North American player at $22,000, following by Japanese National Team goalie Nana Fujimoto (NYR) at $21,000. Kaleigh Fratkin (CTW) is the highest paid Canadian player at $20,000.

Let’s also take a look at how these numbers compare to what you might “expect” to see. Obviously there aren’t historical numbers to compare things to, but we can use a look at a hypothetical breakdown of total contracts.

Let’s say each team spent an equal amount of money on contracts in each of the seven salary bands in the first chart. If so, you would expect the total contract numbers to break down like the blue line in the following chart. Compare that to the green bars that show how salary totals actually break down, and you can see some interesting differences:


  • As you can see the bulk of the contracts are either under $16K or over $20K. While both the $12K and the “superstar” $20K+ contracts are about where you’d expect them to be, the $10K and $14K contracts are higher than expected.
  • The most noticeable variant is the lack of contracts from $16K to $20. It seems that, for the first season at least, teams are having to pay up for the relatively small group of elite players – largely women with extensive international experience like Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Nana Fujimoto, etc. – and then round out their rosters by loading up on smaller contracts for less experienced/well-decorated players. Right now not many players fall in the liminal space of “in enough demand warrant well above league min. but not in so much demand that they start heading near league max.”
  • Again, I wonder if that will change in season two when the GMs have a season worth of games to analyze players who don’t have a lot of high profile international or recent collegiate play.

  1. But wait… Gary Bettman assured me fans aren’t interested in that information???

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